CARNOUSTIE, Scotland Tiger Woods's love affair with links golf began here at Carnoustie in 1995 when he played in the Scottish Open as the 19-year-old U.S. Amateur champion. He finished tied for 29th and went on to make the cut in the British Open at St. Andrews.
The three-time champion now rates this tournament as his favorite major. Having played three practice rounds in three different winds already this week, including an early morning round in sideways rain, Woods explained why this unique type of golf excites him more than any other.
"It allows you to be creative," he said. "Augusta used to be like that. The U.S. Open is obviously not. And the PGA is similar to a U.S. Open setup. We play so much in the States where everything is up in the air. Over here, you get to use the ground as an ally and hit different shots. It is neat to hit bump and runs, and to putt from 50 yards off the green, and to hit 5-irons from 135 yards and run the ball in.
"I wish we played more courses like this. It would be nice to see a Ryder Cup played on a real links course. The courses on the PGA Tour are virtually the same apart from the length of the rough. I think the players enjoy going back to the old-style courses like Oakmont and Congressional because we don't get a chance to play venues like that much any more."
What makes Woods so unusual is his ability to conjure up shots that his rivals (if he has any) simply don't have in their arsenals. And experimenting with his game has always been part of his makeup.
"Coming over here just enhanced that," he continued. "A lot of guys just get into a mode where they hit one normal shot all the time. If you are limited by that, when that one shot goes awry, you have no shots to go back on."
One European player who would truly understand Woods's philosophy is Seve Ballesteros, who announced his retirement Monday. Woods believes the Spaniard was probably the most creative player ever.
"I've never seen anyone who has had a better short game than him," Woods said. "I have picked his brain on several occasions around the greens and watched him hit shot after shot and have him explain how he did it and why. It was just phenomenal. He was a genius."
It takes one to know one.